English | Iranian
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I identify as straight, not religious, and mixed-race White/Middle Eastern. Though on all ethnicity forms the only option for me is mixed White/Asian, and I don’t feel that necessarily encompasses the Middle East in people’s minds.
My Mum is English, born and raised in England. My Dad is from Iran, born in Tabriz and raised in Tehran. He actually only came to the UK to study in the late 70s, but unfortunately was unable to return to Iran since. While he was here, the 1979 revolution happened over there. Since he’s not Muslim, it wasn’t really the right environment for him to return to. I feel sad for him because he wasn’t able to see some family members (like my Grandma) again before they passed away. My Dad is a member of the Baha’i faith, a minority religious group that isn’t currently recognised in Iran. It’s not really safe for him to live there or even visit, as Baha’is can often be arbitrarily detained, imprisoned, denied education, amongst other things. Many of our other family members also had to leave Iran at this time, so we have family all over the world. He met my Mum through work; his work colleague was actually my Nan (Mum’s side)! They separated after a few years, and two children.
We always went to good schools, so I don’t think being mixed-race was ever an issue for me, but I think I was aware of my ethnicity from quite a young age. My sister and I lived with my Dad until we went to secondary school (when we moved to our Mum’s). Growing up in a house with him until we were teenagers meant we were surrounded by the Persian culture, language and food. Also, my name isn’t one that you can gloss over as British, so generally one of the first questions I get asked when meeting new people is about my heritage. Both my Mum and sister have blonde hair and blue eyes, so that’s often commented upon. I think my paternal great-Grandmother was very fair, so I guess her genes passed to my sister too. My Mum always tells this anecdote of me as a child being really vexed by the fact I didn’t look the same as them because I had darker skin, eyes and hair.
I think because I’ve never been to Iran, and can’t speak the language, I feel like I’m in a bit of a weird limbo where it’s quite obvious to others that I’m not fully English, yet I can’t fully identify with being Iranian. I was always envious of my cousins and step-siblings who can speak fluent Farsi. I’d say more than anything I feel British, but in a way, I wish I was more Iranian because I would have been able to feel closer to that side of the family (particularly my Grandparents) if I were. I’m increasingly desperate to visit Iran and see what it’s like and experience where we’re from but I worry I’ll get there and feel like an alien.
The combination of cultures clashed at times growing up, with my parents’ differing views on things such as marriage and religion. I think it has been a learning curve for both, but especially my Dad who has had to adapt to a Western culture and also raise children in one (though he’s done an awesome job). When we were younger he raised us in a fairly religious environment, but we didn’t really take to it. Regardless, I am still grateful to have had the experience of both worlds (my Mum isn’t particularly religious) as it meant we were able to make an informed choice about our own lives. I think it has had a really positive effect on the way I conduct myself.
I can’t say that I have experienced challenges navigating through life because of my race, or that there have been many stand-out instances where I have felt challenged because of my identity, perhaps a few occurrences where people have used (often incorrect) racial slurs about me, but nothing that has had a lasting effect on my spirit. I have been extremely privileged in my upbringing, with great family support from both sides, so perhaps have been shielded from any potential challenges as a result. I think a lot of the time I am quite naïve about these sorts of things, as we have been brought up to be so open to everyone. The older I get, the more confident I’m becoming with my own identity, the more interested I am in listening to the experiences other people have had because of their race. It’s something I’m actively trying to engage in and read around now, so I can take part in the wider debate about race, as I’m aware how lucky I’ve been that my experiences have been overall positive.
With friendships, if we get on and are able to laugh together, you’ll do. Race, religion, gender & sexuality aside, it doesn’t matter. It’s about a connection you have with people and an ability to have engaging conversations.
I definitely connect to different parts of each culture for different things. Are you crazy? Of course my culture affects my relationship with food! Persian culture revolves around food, they live for feeding people, hosting people, getting the family together etc. Persian cooking takes a long time and a lot of patience, so we normally make it in quantities to feed the multitudes. My whole relationship with food changed a few years ago when I became a vegetarian, for environmental and animal welfare reasons. Persian culture does NOT recognise vegetarianism, and my dad looked like he might cry when I told him. Some of my other relatives on his side have taken it as a personal challenge to convert me back to eating meat. (Have you ever seen the film My Big Fat Greek Wedding? Where the English groom is vegetarian, and the bridal party can’t understand it, and one aunty is like ‘that’s okay I’ll make lamb’, welcome to my life). For a while I actively avoided cooking Persian cuisine because I couldn’t work out how to make it well without meat and going to Persian restaurants was limited for me. More recently I’ve found a renewed zeal, with the boom in vegetarian/veganism, and even went to a Middle Eastern vegetarian cooking class. I think this is another example of where East meets West and adapting to suit the two.
I don’t speak Farsi, and this is something I wish my parents had pushed harder with. I can pick up the jist of conversations but can’t have one myself. This meant that growing up it has been difficult for me to communicate with older relatives, particularly my paternal grandparents who didn’t speak English. It’s weird being on the tube or something and suddenly tuning in to a family nearby speaking Farsi. I get a paradoxical feeling of connection but also disparity at not being able to understand what they’re saying. I have tried to learn a few times in recent years but it’s a difficult language to learn and I can’t devote enough time to it. I’ll get there one day!
My hair is wavy/curly by nature and it’s taken me many years to learn to love that. I’m 27 now and it’s only this year that I’ve started to let my hair be natural and not straighten it to within an inch of its life before I leave the house. I always thought having it curly equated to it looking messy but actually, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the reaction from friends and family in response to the change.
My experience of being mixed-race has been overwhelmingly positive. I think my upbringing has made me far more open to diversity and I love meeting people from different cultures. A mix of cultures is nothing but normal in our house. For example, my Step-Mum is a multilingual Iranian with Jewish heritage brought up in Yemen and has lived in Uganda, Georgia, the Middle East and the UK. I studied genetics, and I love that the world is getting smaller and we’re all essentially beginning to merge into one jumbled up race. I have found it difficult to read the news of late; I just don’t understand why people actively seek division. It doesn’t compute in my brain.
I remember a long time ago when I started applying for jobs, I had a conversation with my mum about the potential challenges I might face having an unequivocally non-British name on my CV, and the gentle suggestion that it become habitual to follow a job application with a phone call, so people can speak to me and see that I’m personable and westernised. It’s a harsh truth but unconscious bias is a real thing. I’ve also applied for jobs where I’ve been given additional help because I class as BAME and I guess they need to increase their diversity. I find that odd, I feel like classing myself as BAME is cheating, because I feel so Western. I’m proud too and I want to be considered for my merits not my race, so I declined.
If I were to be born again, I honestly wouldn’t change a thing.